UPDATE: Lines Being Drawn Over East Tosa Chain Restaurant Amendment
The item was held over on Monday's Wauwatosa Plan Commission agenda. But the region's commercial realtors strongly warn against prohibition of chain restaurants, while neighborhood leader defends the proposal as public comment begins.
Updated at 2 p.m.: A proposed zoning amendment to restrict or prohibit chain restaurants in East Tosa will be held from Monday night's Plan Commission agenda and likely will resurface there April 8.
The measure will likely get its first public hearing in front of an ad hoc committee instead of before the Plan Commission.
The first organized opposition has already weighed in. But local voices from outside the Common Council who are in favor are also being heard.
When first brought up by its sponsor, Ald. Joel Tilleson of the 5th District, the zoning code change met with wholehearted approval. It addresses "formula restaurants" and sets criteria for identifying them, by number of outlets and common branding features.
Under the amendment, the city would be able to turn away such restaurants in the stretch of North Avenue from 60th Street to 76th Street (Wauwatosa Avenue).
But a clause in the amendment would allow the city to consider and approve certain applications — and that, according to Meg Miller of the East Tosa Alliance, which developed the city's long-range plan for the district, makes it not a strict, reactionary prohibition but a proactive set of controls.
Stay within keeping of district's character
"This is not a ban," Miller said. "This is one more crucial tool for our community's toolbox. I think this legislation will help us foster businesses that respond to the needs of our surrounding neighborhoods, delivering the wealth of our neighborhoods to our East Tosa commercial district, which in turns supports the growth and sustainability of our district.
"Unlike the more regional shopping areas of Wauwatosa, the residential and commercial neighbors in East Tosa have a very symbiotic relationship which needs to be supported and fostered."
In Miller's view, and Tilleson's, the move merely keeps chains from turning over leases to other chains with no review under the North Avenue Plan.
"This amendment," Miller said, "is a key tool for us to maintain the unique character and appeal of our East Tosa commercial district, protect our district's economy by ensuring a diversity of businesses with sufficient opportunities for independent entrepreneurs, and foster businesses that serve the basic needs of the surrounding neighborhood, rather than those oriented toward tourists or regional shoppers.
"This is in line with our vision and plan and, in fact, is the same language that has been used by other communities and districts with similar visions as part of their legal argument in support of this type of legislation."
Some regional business leaders do not agree.
Let the market decide what's best
Jim Villa, president and CEO of the Commercial Associations of Realtors Wisconsin, wrote to the Wauwatosa Common Council "to weigh the considerable negative impact this proposal will have on Wauwatosa’s economy and reject it."
Villa wrote that, at a time when the national, state and local economies are slow to recover from one of the worst recessions in history, "it would seem counterproductive to limit economic development opportunities and investment in your community."
Representing more than 500 commercial real estate brokers, CARW warns that such prohibition "will have negative impacts on Wauwatosa’s economy and tax base" and suggests "allowing the market to determine which businesses will best serve the residents and visitors of Wauwatosa."
Villa also noted that he and the CARW board thought it a mistake to compare the success of formula restaurant bans in Sister Bay, WI, and Springdale, UT, to Wauwatosa's proposal, saying those markets are "uniquely driven and tailored to tourists and those looking to escape the metropolitan areas."
Other examples abound
But Miller, of East Tosa, counters that there are many more cities, large and small, that have imposed some sort of ban or restrictions successfully — including major urban centers such as San Francisco, which restricts formula businesses in all neighborhood business districts.
Miller found examples of city-wide legislation as well as legislation pertaining ony to certain districts, as does the proposed East Tosa amendment:
- Ogunquit, ME, has city-wide ban of formula restaurants
- Coronado, CA caps the number of formula restarts and treats formal retail stores as a conditional use
- Bristol, RI bans formula businesses larger than 2,500 square feet from its downtown
- Port Townsend, WA restricts formula businesses to a single highway commercial zone
- Chesapeake City, MD restricts formula businesses to a single highway commercial zone
- Fredericksburg, TX requires a conditional use permit of formula businesses within city's historic downtown district.
Miller also provided a list, not comprehensive, of formula business bylaws nationwide that she has been able to search out.
After Monday night's hearing, the formula restaurant amendment will also be heard publicly before the Community Development Committee, but the measure is not on the agenda for that panel's meeting Tuesday night.